After a three-year process, the Board of Selectmen received the latest update to the Fairfield Hills Master Plan during its September 16 meeting.
The relatively brief presentation by Land Use Director George Benson and Master Plan Review Committee member Deborra Zukowski elicited a couple of tense interactions with Selectmen Will Rodgers and James Gaston over the reintroduction of housing as a possible development consideration.
While the idea would require significant government activity and public input in the Planning & Zoning arena before any such consideration came to fruition, even in its very limited proposed capacity, Mr Benson and First Selectman Pat Llodra believe it is a proposal worth considering.
“Even to consider it, we’d have to seek an exception to existing planning and zoning regulations,” the land use official said.
“I think it stinks,” Selectman Rodgers asserted at one point. “How essential is it? It will be an irritant in the future.”
Mr Benson countered that he and the selectman simply disagree, saying the town should adopt a wait and see position until or if the suggestion gains any traction with the public.
Mr Gaston indicated his concern was with potential on-campus residents who may eventually take issue with traffic and activities in the areas where possible rental and commercial/retail mixed use projects are developed.
Mr Rodgers referred to the situation as “moving to the nuisance.”
But Mrs Llodra said that to block discussion because some are afraid of where the idea could go does not represent the kind of community Newtown is.
Mr Benson stressed that any residential units would be rental only, and would be part of a more sustainable mixed-use model. Ms Zukowski added that upper floor residential development would help carry developers through periods when ground floor commercial space sat unoccupied.
She said commercial tenants would also sustain any limited development in cases where residential units were left vacant.
During the discussion, Mr Benson also referred to a townwide survey circulated several years ago by resident Paul Lundquist, which showed 45 percent of respondents favored or would accept limited residential development at Fairfield Hills.
In introducing the update, Ms Zukowski referred to the document as more a set of updated guiding principles versus a reworked master plan. Mr Benson reinforced that the update was not intended to replace the current master plan, rather it is “clarifying current conditions” on the town-owned campus.
Prior to the housing discussion, Mr Benson also focused on the permanent preservation of the high meadow as a site for passive recreation. He displayed a map of the area, keying in on its unique geographic location, as well as its role as a cap on the local aquifer as key reasons for designating it specifically for preservation.
Ms Zukowski then read from the update’s vision statement, describing the Fairfield Hills Campus as a “vibrant sustainable destination where all members of the community can go to enjoy recreational, social, cultural, and indoor and outdoor activities.
“The campus would provide a home for some municipal services and a gathering place for a variety of townwide events. Small retail stores, restaurants, and professional offices would be nestled harmoniously within a core section of the campus,” she continued. “The well-designed campus would connect the history of the site with its future, with the town maintaining overall control of the property and preserving the campus environment and architectural style.”
Supported Uses Detailed
According to the report, supported uses in the report include:
*Community Culture and Arts: A rich assortment of cultural and artistic events would await residents visiting the campus. These events may include both indoor and outdoor exhibits and performances, as well as arts education classes tailored to diverse age groups and a garden commemorating the facility’s history, staff, and patients.
*Community Recreation: Indoor and outdoor recreation and sports would provide year-round entertainment. Athletic fields would support local teams and leagues as well as the occasional nonteam event, for example pet walks, auto shows, etc. An expanded Parks & Recreation facility would house the department staff, pools, teen meeting zone, etc. During summer, trails and open spaces would provide opportunities for walking, hiking, and birdwatching, while winter would provide the outdoor enthusiast with opportunities for cross country skiing, sledding, and snow shoeing.
*Town and Community Services: A portion of the campus would provide for community needs, such as social services, emergency services, and a town green.
*Open Land: The open feeling of the campus results from much undeveloped land between buildings on the core campus as well as larger designated Open Space areas such as the High Meadow and the East Meadow.
Areas on the core campus would be available for community-initiated use such as community gardens, playing fields, and community events. The designated Open Space land would be left undeveloped in perpetuity and available only for passive recreational use under the jurisdiction of the Conservation Commission.
*Commercial/Economic: Limited retail/restaurant businesses would be available to serve the needs of those participating in activities on the campus. In addition, a few buildings would house small businesses and professional offices, creating a rich entrepreneurial environment for the Newtown community. Such use could potentially provide a small revenue stream to help the town reduce the overall financial burden of the campus.
The report states that to help make such limited commercial development more viable and to address housing diversity needs within the Newtown community, proposals that provide rental housing on upper floors of selected buildings should be allowed for site review and public input.
Should the proposal pass such review, then such rental housing can be added as a commercial use. The overall scope of rental housing should be limited and should in no way impact the use of the overall property.
No standalone or nonrental housing would be allowed.
Before accepting the report Monday night, Mrs Llodra thanked the presenters and all of the volunteers involved in the process leading up to the new update.
“This is extraordinary work,” she said.
Following the meeting, Mr Benson told The Bee that any eventual residential component would consist of 20–30 units maximum. And he reiterated that the update should not be regarded as an attempt to create a new master plan.
“It just applies the master plan in the current atmosphere of the campus,” he said. “A lot has changed — buildings have come down, others have gone up. This is just another tool to help market the property.”